The hot stove made the jump from frigid cold to lukewarm earlier this week, as the Milwaukee Brewers nabbed Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain within about an hour of each other. Yelich came from the Miami Marlins in while Cain as a free agent.
Yelich and Cain join a Brewers team that was already pretty deep in outfielders. They're deep in outfielders even with top center field prospect Lewis Brinson going to his hometown Marlins in the Yelich trade. Last season Ryan Braun manned left field, 30-homer man Domingo Santana held down right, and Brinson saw time in center along with Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips.
Brinson is gone, but Braun, Santana, Broxton, and Phillips are still around. Add Yelich and Cain and that's six outfielders for three roster spots. The Brewers are an NL team, so there's no DH spot available. There has been talk of moving Braun to first base ...
... which would alleviate the outfield logjam, but would leave Eric Thames without a lineup spot. Thames had a solid return season in 2017, but he didn't hit a whole lot after April. Perhaps the Brewers would rather use him in a part-time role, or even as a trade chip?
Either way, the Brewers are clearly loaded with outfielders right now,, likely their rotation. Yelich and Cain obviously aren't going anywhere, and Braun has full no-trade protection through his 10-and-5 rights. I doubt he'd accept a trade just as the team looks poised to contend. Besides, his trade value is minimal given his contract and nagging injuries.
Based on that, the Brewers figure to peddle Broxton, Santana, and Phillips in trade talks. Santana had the best season of the three last year -- he hit .278/.371/.505 (126 OPS+) with those 30 homers -- but Broxton and Phillips can play center field. Phillips is the youngest of the three and was recently named the 80th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. They're all desirable for different reasons.
Assuming landing rotation help is the goal in any trade, which teams are a potential match for one of Milwaukee's spare outfielders? The list isn't as long as you might think. Let's run through all 30 teams to find potential trade partners.
The new front office doesn't seem particularly fond of Yasmany Tomas and there is a J.D. Martinez-sized hole in the outfield. It would seem the Diamondbacks have pitching to trade as well. Patrick Corbin is an impending free agent, so Arizona might want to move him now rather than risk losing him for nothing next winter, and prospects Anthony Banda and Braden Shipley could be in play for the right piece. Santana for a spare arm and other stuff seems doable.
A possible fit. The Braves have lots of young pitching to offer the Brewers -- and I do mean lots -- and Nick Markakis will be off the books next offseason. Ronald Acuna, , will join Ender Inciarte in the outfield at some point in 2018. That leaves the third outfield spot open long-term. There's a potential fit here.
The Orioles could use another outfielder, but unless they make Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy available, they have zero pitching to offer the Brewers. The O's are desperately trying to add pitching this offseason. Not subtract it.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox seem focused on J.D. Martinez and they already have a full outfield with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi. I suppose president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski could be talked into making Eduardo Rodriguez available. Realistically, the BoSox aren't a good match for one of Milwaukee's spare outfielders.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say an intra-division trade between the two NL Central rivals won't happen. Besides, the Cubs don't really need another outfielder, and they don't have a spare starter to trade anyway.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are still fairly early in their rebuilding phase, so I'm sure they'd have interest in a young outfielder like Santana or Phillips. With Chris Sale and Jose Quintana already traded away, their best pitching trade chip is Carlos Rodon, assuming Lucas Giolito is off the table. The problem? Rodon is rehabbing from September shoulder surgery and is not expected to be ready for the start of the season. A healthy Rodon for an outfielder would've been interesting.
With the caveat that the Reds are rebuilding and will take as much young talent as they can get, there's not really a fit here. Cincinnati is deep in outfielders (Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler, Adam Duvall, Jesse Winker) and they have basically zero pitching to spare. I can't imagine they'd make Luis Castillo available, especially not for another outfielder.
Definitely a potential trade partner for the Brew Crew. The Indians have an outfield full of left-handed hitters (Michael Brantley, Bradley Zimmer, Lonnie Chisenhall), so a righty complement like Santana or Broxton would make the most sense. Keep in mind the Indians were reportedly in the mix for Cain before he signed with the Brewers.
Cain was not a fit for the Indians financially, but he was a fit for their roster. Assuming Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are off-limits (duh), the Indians could still offer Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar, or Mike Clevinger for an outfielder. Gosh, a Salazar for Santana trade sure sounds fun, doesn't it?
As a rebuilding club, the Tigers figure to have interest in any quality young player, regardless of position. Can the Brewers make a big enough trade offer to pry away Michael Fulmer? What about Daniel Norris? There is potential here, for sure. After trading for Yelich, dipping even further into their prospect pool to get Fulmer would be a very bold move on Milwaukee's part.
I don't see a fit here. The defending World Series champion Astros have George Springer and Josh Reddick locked into center and right fields, respectively, with Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick, and Derek Fisher candidates to play left field. Top prospect Kyle Tucker is an outfielder as well. Also, the 'Stros just traded for Gerrit Cole. I doubt they're looking to subtract pitching, especially for another outfielder.
Kansas City Royals
Alex Gordon's contract ensures he's going to play left field, and because Jorge Soler is out of minor-league options -- he can't go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and Royals aren't going to do that -- he's locked into right field. Center field is wide open though thanks to Cain's free agency, so either Broxton or Phillips would fit. The question is whether the Brewers have interest in any of Kansas City's pitchers. Would the Royals be willing to give up Danny Duffy for a package built around Phillips?
Los Angeles Angels
Nah. There's no room for another outfielder here -- FanGraphs projects the Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun unit to be the best outfield in baseball in 2018 -- and the Angels don't exactly have pitching to spare. Not a fit.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Hmmm. The Dodgers want to stay under the luxury tax threshold, we know that much, and Joc Pederson seems to have fallen out of favor a bit. Even if they do keep Pederson, Chris Taylor's versatility means there would still be a way to get another outfielder on the roster. Would Los Angeles part with Alex Wood or Kenta Maeda to add, say, Santana? Seems unlikely, but Andrew Friedman has been known to do crazy things.
Well, the Marlins do need outfielders after trading away Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna. Santana, Broxton, and Phillips are all pre-arbitration-eligible players set to make close to the league minimum in 2018, so they'd add respectability to a roster without increasing payroll. Dan Straily is likely the only Marlins starter who would interest the Brewers. Could they get together for another outfielder-centric deal so soon after the Yelich trade?
New York Mets
Before they re-signed Jay Bruce, I would've said the Mets are a potential fit for a guy like Broxton or Santana. Instead, they re-signed Bruce, and figure to keep their pitchers. The Mets and Brewers don't match up well.
New York Yankees
The Brewers had interest in Sonny Gray prior to last season's trade deadline, so I imagine they'd have interest in him again now. The last thing the Yankees need is another outfielder though. They're more than set with Stanton, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Clint Frazier. Besides, the Yankees are looking to add a pitcher themselves. They're not looking to move Gray or any of their other starters.
The Athletics are perpetual opportunists. If there's a chance to get a cheap young player, they pounce. Kendall Graveman is starting to make real money through arbitration -- he and the A's are heading to a hearing next month after he requested $2.6 million and the team countered with $2.36 million -- and that's usually when Oakland cashes their players in as trade chips. Outfield isn't a huge need for the A's, but they won't rule anything out. Keep an eye on them.
Probably not going to happen. The Carlos Santana signing pushes Rhys Hoskins into left field full-time, leaving Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr for center and right fields. The Brewers would surely love to pry Aaron Nola away from the Phillies. It's just difficult to see that happening with a package built around another outfielder.
The whole NL Central rivalry thing may complicate a potential trade, but the Pirates have made it clear they're rebuilding this winter. I'm sure they'd move Ivan Nova. Do the Brewers want him? They've been connected to Yu Darvish in recent weeks, which makes it seem they are aiming higher than adding a mid-rotation innings guy. It's hard for me to believe Jameson Taillon would be on the table, though I'm sure the Brewers would love to get their hands on him.
San Diego Padres
Unless the Brewers really love Dinelson Lamet or Luis Perdomo, these two teams don't match up well for a trade. I'm sure the Padres would love to add Santana or Phillips. They just don't have the impact pitching to offer in return.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants could certainly use another outfielder even after signing Austin Jackson and trading for Andrew McCutchen. Broxton or Phillips would improve their outfield defense, while Santana would improve their offense (but hurt their defense since McCutchen would have to play center). What pitching do the Giants have to offer? That's the problem. Madison Bumgarner isn't going anywhere, and if the Brewers were willing to take on Johnny Cueto's or Jeff Samardzija's contract, they'd just sign one of the many quality free agent pitchers still available and keep all their outfielders. The Brewers' outfielders are a fit for the Giants, but Giants' pitchers are not a fit for the Brewers.
The Mariners probably have room for another outfielder. They're tentatively scheduled to start Dee Gordon in center with Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger on the corners, and Guillermo Heredia on the bench. Santana would add some nice thump to the lineup and Broxton would give them a center field safety net in case Gordon has some growing pains. Seattle just doesn't have the pitching to offer the Brewers though, assuming James Paxton is off-limits.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Ozuna trade gave the Cardinals the big outfield bat they needed. Even after trading away Randal Grichuk, they're still set with Ozuna, Tommy Pham, and Dexter Fowler at the MLB level with top prospects Tyler O'Neill and Harrison Bader in Triple-A. Realistically, there's not a fit here, which is a shame for the Brewers because St. Louis has some really interesting young pitchers to offer.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are definitely the team to watch. Chris Archer is said to be available, but even if the Rays don't want to move him, they could offer Jake Odorizzi to the Brewers instead. Tampa Bay's outfield appears to be full with Steven Souza, Kevin Kiermaier, Denard Span, and Mallex Smith, but don't sleep on them just adding as much talent as possible. That has always been their M.O. Archer or Odorizzi for an outfielder seems very possible to me.
Yes, the Rangers need outfielders. No, the Rangers don't have pitching to trade. Santana in particular would make sense for Texas to help balance their lefty leaning middle of the lineup. The Brewers probably don't want to rent Cole Hamels or take on a reclamation project in Matt Moore, however.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were reportedly the runner-up for Yelich. They refused to include top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in a trade, which is when the Marlins pivoted to the Brewers. Toronto could absolutely use a young, controllable outfielder. Santana would really be a perfect fit in the post-Jose Bautista era. Do they have the pitching to offer though? Assuming Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are off-limits, there's not much left to entice the Brewers.
The Nationals are an interesting case. They're letting Jayson Werth leave as a free agent, which might not be a big deal given his declining performance and last year's emergence of Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin. But Bryce Harper's free agency is looming, and a guy like Santana would give Washington a big left field bat this year and right field insurance going forward in case Harper leaves. Trading Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark for Santana, then turning around and signing Jake Arrieta seems like a very Nationals thing.
One thing working against the Brewers in a potential outfielder trade is the free agent market. Why give up players to acquire Santana or Broxton when you could simply sign someone like, say, Jon Jay or Carlos Gomez? Or even Carlos Gonzalez? The free agent market has moved very slowly this winter, so there are lots of good players still on the market, available for nothing but cash.
Santana in particular is the kind of cheap, controllable, and productive young player you can't buy in free agency. That makes him attractive to other teams. Broxton had a tough 2017 season, however, and Phillips is unproven at the MLB level. They're the guys teams may pass on to sign a free agent. Santana is the most desirable outfielder the Brewers have to offer, and after running through the other 29 teams, the Braves, D-Backs, Indians, and Rays stand out as the best potential suitors.